The Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation was established in 2004 to fund support services for people affected by breast cancer in the Hudson Valley. The Foundation was started by Dana Effron and Cathy Varunok, two community activists who saw a need for increased services for people with breast cancer.
For years, Dana and Cathy raised money for national breast cancer organizations but in 2004 they decided to focus their fundraising efforts on helping their friends and neighbors in Columbia County, Dutchess County, Putnam County, Westchester County, Rockland County, Orange County, Ulster County, Greene County, and Sullivan County.
We are a public charity and therefore raise money throughout the year to fund our programs and grants. The four major fundraisers are: Hoops for Hope Women’s Basketball Tournament at Marist College in March; the Miles of Hope Spring Brunch in May; Goals for Hope Women’s Soccer Tournament in August; and our signature event, the Community Breast Cancer Walk at James Baird State Park off of the Taconic State Parkway in Pleasant Valley, NY in September/October.
All funds raised in the Hudson Valley are used to support programs in the Hudson Valley. Some of the current programs funded by the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation include:
- Medical Gap Care Fund for individuals who are faced with life emergencies and/or costs not covered by health insurance while they are undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
- Complementary Medicine – this includes funding of massage therapy, Reiki, acupuncture, music therapy, exercise/dance, and art therapy programs to enhance recovery.
- Scholarships for college-bound high school seniors whose lives have been affected by breast cancer. Scholarships are given in all nine counties.
- Peer-to-Peer – a program uniting recently diagnosed breast cancer patients with trained survivors.
So that is who we are on paper, but who are we really when it comes down to flesh and bone instead of facts and figures? As the lone person associated with Miles of Hope who has not had a personal experience with breast cancer, I can tell you that each and every day I am stunned and motivated by the women, mostly survivors, who volunteer, raise money, help at events and keep us going. We have received great support in our community from individuals and families contacting us to run a fundraiser, to large businesses and schools asking us to come accept donations from an event they held. To say it is inspirational would be a masterpiece of understatement.
And how do we directly impact the breast cancer patient? We recognized early on that we wanted to fill the void frequently not addressed in a patient’s physical medical care. Hospitals offer support groups and counseling, but we wanted to help them do more.
Recently diagnosed patients experience high levels of anxiety and stress – understandably. Studies from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City show that these high levels of nervous tension can be soothed with non-traditional forms of physical therapy like massage therapy, reflexology, Reiki, and relaxation technique.
According to an article in the August 2019 issue of the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, women in a trial study who received 30-minute massage sessions three times per week for five weeks experienced less depression, anxiety and pain. “By the end of the treatment, levels of dopamine, natural killer cells, and lymphocytes had increased from the first day to the last day in the massage therapy study group.”
Miles of Hope has funded many programs at local hospitals to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with a cancer diagnosis: a massage therapy program at Vassar Brothers Medical Center and a Reflexology and Reiki program at MidHudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie, just to name two. We have also funded art therapy programs to reduce stress and stimulate coordination after surgery at the Health Alliance Hospitals in Kingston and the Barrett Art Center in downtown Poughkeepsie. By alleviating some of the strain associated with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, we hope to enhance recovery. It may not be as important as a patient’s physical treatment, but we believe, in the bigger picture of overall patient health, both mental and physical, it will help.
Aside from an emphasis on early detection (yearly mammogram) and prevention (exercise, healthy balanced diet, and healthy life style), Miles of Hope strives to eliminate some of the financial pressure exacerbated by a cancer diagnosis. In our 17 year history, we have donated over $2,500,000 to people of the Hudson Valley affected by breast cancer. The lion’s share of our donations go to monetary support for individuals in treatment for breast cancer for a financial emergency not covered by insurance through the Medical Gap Care program. The program reimburses patients for expenses like transportation to and from treatment, food, gas, heat, electricity and rent. Oftentimes we get a call just as someone’s electricity is being turned off or as they are being evicted from their apartment. To eliminate this level of stress represents some of the most rewarding work we do.